With Air Power, 1962 War Result Would've Been Different: IAF Chief

If the Indian Air Force had been allowed to use offensive air power in the 1962 war the country fought with China, the result of the war -- which China won -- would have been different. A commonly debated view, now said for the first time explicitly by a serving Chief of Air Staff.

Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne  said, "In 1962, there were certain limitations as a result of which the air force was restricted to support and logistics duties. If the IAF had been allowed to participate in an offensive profile, the result of the war would have been different. These are open and glaring lessons we should have imbibed." For good measure, Air Chief Browne also added, "To be sure, there will be no such limitations in the future in any potential conflict."

The "catastrophic ommission" is said to have been chiefly responsible for India's crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962. The decision not to apply air power beyond basic logistical and transport duties was of the Prime Minister at the time -- Jawaharlal Nehru, who is widely believed to have acted (or, not as the case was) on the advice of a handful of people including his Defence Minister at the time and US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith. (As an aside, yesterday, the Chief's words were seen as potentially sensitive since they appeared to question the folly of a man who happens to be the political patriarch of the first family of the current ruling dispensation in the country.)

Many argue that the Chinese would have won the war even if India had applied air power in an offensive profile. That the Chinese air response would have been overwhelming. Either way, in a country that has woefully short strategic memory, and an even more questionable planning ethic, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1962 war -- the only one that India has lost after independence -- is a good occasion as any to debate and discuss this and other questions.

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